Should we be considering employee experience and customer experience separately?
Wednesday 7th June 10am – 4.30pm, The Aviator, Farnborough Thursday 6th July 12pm – 4pm, Quo Vadis, London
Our previous topic explored the potential benefits for customer experience of a better understanding of the HR function. During the sessions, it became evident that there is a growing need to consider how the experiences of employees shape and influence customer experience. Specifically we need to ask the question: should customer and employee experience be considered together or viewed independently of each other?
There are two trains of thought. The first is that happy employees make happy customers from the point of view of their interaction. But there is a growing perception that developing a more comprehensive understanding of employee experience can drive a more consistent approach to people, and therefore to customers.
The second perception is that employee experience has the potential to change HR in the same way customer experience has changed customer service. Using the same tools and methodologies, HR has the ability to generate the insight and understanding that could truly elevate employee experience as a company priority.
Several forward-thinking companies, most notably First Direct, have succeeded in elevating employee and customer experience to ‘people experience’. Businesses that acknowledge the impact of employees’ experience on customers can achieve greater clarity of purpose and understanding. Moving to people experience opens the door to the development of perpetual experience, an approach that helps you ask the right questions for your specific context. Exploring employee experience is therefore a valuable way to help businesses respond to a rapidly changing environment.
Some of the key questions we will be considering are:
What is employee experience, and what is its role in customer experience?
What are the factors that influence employee experience?
How can placing greater focus on employee experience help businesses achieve their objectives?
And lastly, should employee experience be viewed independently of customer experience?
Tuesday 28th March RSVP Full day, Farnborough Thursday 27th April RSVP Half day, London
For years now, we have known that the value proposition for employees is changing. While salary will always be a consideration, we are increasingly seeing the rise of fulfilment and purpose as important motivations for a workforce.
But can we even call them a workforce? Or are we just looking to employee people?
If customer experience activity is to bring about lasting change, the CX function must engage more effectively with Human Resources. The leaders in UK CX were combining customer and employee experiences several years ago by focusing on ‘people experience’, so this is not a new trend. But as experience increasingly becomes a key differentiator both within and outside organisations, there is a growing need to understand and fulfil the expectations of newer, younger employees in order to create a suitable value proposition.
This shift forces us to consider how we motivate people. While many companies have prided themselves in their pension scheme and their working environment, what behaviours do such considerations drive? And are they the behaviours that will drive the results we want?
At one extreme are companies with a frantic working environment – high pressure, high energy, and high stress. While some employees prefer this kind of environment and thrive in it, they know they will eventually burn out. At the other extreme we have the gigging economy, where workers are more concerned with flexibility and how much the role will strengthen their personal brand.
As experiences become the driving force of activity in organisations, there are opportunities for the CX function to become increasingly involved with the HR function. HR could well be the function within an organisation that is changing most quickly, and it is integral to the sustainability of all digital transformation initiatives. If companies are to deliver excellence in customer and digital experience, they must listen to the needs and expectations of new hires and learn how to respond effectively.
Discussions on this topic will focus on:
How can customer experience benefit from a closer relationship with HR?
How can we detect a changing landscape in our company?
How should we change our approach to recruitment?
How can HR help us bring about sustainable, lasting change?
How do we engage a broader range of employees in customer experience activity?
Two problematic areas for today’s organisations are employee engagement and digital transformation.
Although organisations want employees to share knowledge, care about their work, and embrace digital ways of working, they often try to impose these desires on top of the existing culture of work. And attempts to impose culture change from above will always be met with resistance.
The problem is that we have two sets of forces pushing against each other: an outdated, hierarchical view of work based on a 20th century industrial model of organisation, and a ‘socialised’ view of work stemming from a desire to harness the power of online communities and networks.
These two opposing approaches to organisation are fundamentally incompatible, and this is a key reason why many organisations are struggling with digital transformation. Digital provides an entirely new way to approach work, collaboration, and organisation, but if transformation is undertaken with a 20th century industrial mindset then it will not reap the full benefits that digital offers. This is not a new problem, as Cham (2014) notes by referencing the argument made by Marshal McLuhan back in the 1960s:
“If we try to understand digital transformation with an industrial mindset we are ‘walking backwards into the future”
In the hyperconnected 21st century, we should be designing organisations around community, not work. Millenials have grown up in a hyperconnected age, they instinctively participate in a wide variety of communities, and they expect the modern workplace to function in the same way as their connected personal existence. So it is no surprise that they often become quickly disengaged when confronted with bureaucratic, hierarchical organisations using outdated technologies that bear little resemblance to the community-oriented tools to which they are accustomed.
How can we design work around community?
If you look at start-ups, community happens automatically. Everyone knows everyone else, and has a good idea what they are working on. There are never enough people to do the work that needs to be done, so everyone has to help each other out on a daily basis. There is a strong sense of shared purpose, and an urgency that binds the team together. Each employee has to make important decisions under pressure, giving them a strong sense of connection to the vision and purpose of the start-up. Autonomy and initiative are essential.
And most of all, people talk to each other all the time. There is almost no hierarchy to quash the inherent creativity of the team. All ideas regarding how to improve the business are welcomed, discussed, adapted and implemented.
The challenge for larger organistions and businesses is how to reimagine their operational model around principles of community. If we designed our organisations around community, not just around work, things could be very different.
“Putting community at the centre of the organisation fundamentally changes the motivation to do work”
Communities develop around a clear purpose, and this purpose is what drives people to engage with the community. Establishing a clear purpose for an organisation (beyond simply making money for shareholders) is therefore a valuable way of tackling the problem of a disengaged workforce. Designing an organisation as a community turns it into a place where people are emotionally engaged, share knowledge instinctively, and collaborate on shared projects with a strong sense of purpose. And in a knowledge economy, these three factors are fundamental to an effective, engaged, and digitally literate workforce.
Digital transformation represents an attempt to harness the innate human desire to share useful information and participate in purposeful communities. But any digital transformation strategy that focuses on platforms instead of people is almost certain to fail – successful transformation is dependent on understanding what motivates people to participate in communities.
2014 Cham, K.L. “”Virtually An Alternative ? The Medium, The Message and The User Experience; Collective Agency in Digital Spaces and Embodied Social Change”, 5th LAEMOS Colloquium on Organization Studies Constructing Alternatives: How can we organize for alternative social, economic, and ecological balance?, Havana, Cuba http://laemos.com
This post was co-written with Tony Reeves, Digital Research Lead (Customer Experience), The QoE.
“If the challenges lie within a collective consciousness, so will the answers.”
Is consistent customer experience beyond the reach of large organisations?
Ownership of the consumer relationship and trust is an ever-increasing priority for organisations. As they look to be providers of content as well as delivery, trusted adviser rather than lender, or the consumers’ service provider of choice, customer experience is now a major concern.
At its simplest, each customer experience is a real time emotional reaction to “if” and “how” an issue is resolved or a purchase made, judged against the consumer’s expectation of both the “if” and the “how”.
At its most complex, the experience is established over multiple touch points with interactions via self-service and several different people. So where should organisations concentrate their resources, first time resolution, product quality and value, handling the interactions or managing expectations? All have their merits, supporters and numerous business cases built to promote them.
Expectations are continually revised as today’s information rich consumer interacts with an ever-increasing variety of purchase and service options delivered through low and high-tech channels. Many organisations see their opportunity to influence expectations with marketing and pricing strategies. This is OK for new customers but previous experience will dominate future interactions. Bad experiences of IVR or offshore call centres are good examples.
Overcoming an experience, whether generated by your own organisation or not, can be very difficult and expensive.
Providing consistent resolution, the right product at the right price and the appropriate delivery depends on knowing your customer and aligning your capabilities to deliver to their needs – all affect the way the business design model is constructed and carried through strategy, culture, process and implementation. This takes place against a background of different personalities and their dislikes, compulsions, and passions, which ultimately require variations in approach and response.
The debate initially divides the participants into two opposing camps, “people people” and “process reliant”. Each has a valid but conflicting argument, a complaint due to a bad process can be recovered with good people skills, but how many times can you say no to the customer?
However nicely you say it, in the end it is a bad experience. Inevitably a customer centric organisation with great people skills will provide a superior customer experience at the optimum cost. How much you need from each camp will vary, depending on the product or service, its value, its quality and the customer you are talking to.
It is also important to consider the effects of the experience on an organisation’s own people. All the above is just as relevant to staff satisfaction, turnover and cost. There is also a great deal of evidence to show that advocacy has to start from within.
The clues are within us all
The basic elements of the experience are familiar to everyone. Are they listening? Are they interested in me? Is this fair? Do I trust them? Can this add value for me? How easy is this? Do they like me? Do I like them? Which of these questions will drive satisfaction, advocacy, abandonment or churn, will be determined in many cases by a gut feeling and yes, first impressions do count for a great deal. This is a scientific fact, a basic instinct, but also something with which we can identify as human beings.
Whilst easy to identify, these elements are extremely difficult to measure. The common short term measure is satisfaction and the long term effects are increasingly measured as advocacy. Real time measurements of, for example, empathy, are very effective but are seen by many as too transient to help us guide our businesses. As people we are able to measure, assess against expectations and make judgments in a very short space of time. So, how do we set our expectations and what do we measure?
The key skill is social interaction; the ability to participate in a debate and learn from others’ experiences rather than our own, and collective learning, these are the skills that distinguish us as human beings. Many would argue that the quality of these conversations has a greater influence on our development than our formal education. So conversations with friends and relations promote a consensus on common standards, providing a check on ever growing expectations.
The basics of what we as individuals measure also derive from these interactions. We unconsciously assess honesty, education, class and the health of everyone we meet within only a few seconds. We are judging how they look, (colours, neatness, coordination) how they move (agility, stature, body language) and how they sound (volume, tone variations) and how they introduce themselves, above all we are looking for consistency. A very scruffy, highly energetic and meekly spoken individual will not normally generate trust when he introduces himself as Captain John Smith since it falls outside the standards we would expect from our accumulated experiences. To change this initial opinion he will need to demonstrate a consistent message over many meetings.
The same is true for every organisation at each touch point with every customer, an impossible task without common expectations and personality traits. The message seems to be that we need to work with, not against, our instincts.
So every organisation contains the answer
Identifying when and how large organisations are influencing these feelings is of course a huge challenge – except that any one of its employees could tell you exactly how they “feel” about their own and a whole host of other companies during conversations with friends and relations. In most cases their view will be balanced by the group consensus. If the conversation develops into a debate, it has a good chance of producing ideas on how to enhance the experience. These will range from the fanciful to simple practical solutions. We can all bear witness to the censure and creativeness of the group dynamic.
If this group of friends were all actively engaged in the day-to-day delivery of services and products in a range of organisations, it would have the ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the ”if” and “how”, balance “people” and “process”, challenge the internal view – stimulating solutions that individuals or groups from one organisation could not begin to conceive.
How often do we win an argument on “this feels right”? We need comparisons with other experiences and a logical argument built on examples of good and bad practice.
Establishing such groups, representing a cross section of industries, is, I believe, the key to unlocking the power of a great customer experience. Every individual will be able to use the collective knowledge and experience to help them find answers to current and future customer experience challenges – and win approval for implementation.
The opportunity to be part of a group, not just to listen or talk, but to engage and challenge the collective view, benefit from the collective learning and be stimulated by its creativity is also vital to the implementation of the delivery of a consistent experience. Organisations are as individual as the people they contain, the customers they serve, and the experiences they generate. If the challenges lie within a collective consciousness, so will the answers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my smartphone and I couldn’t live without it. But I increasingly find myself working with businesses who think they are dealing with an issue, when in fact they haven’t established the full picture because they haven’t spoken to the right people.
This is a costly problem and wastes both time and money.
In the digital age it is easy to think that we are communicating more effectively. We have more data to inform decision-making than ever before, and more tools to crunch the data than we could wish for. But we also need to identify and talk to the right people to contextualise the data with real experiences.
An evolving response
The needs and experiences of customers, employees and partners are perpetually evolving. An effective response is only possible if a business knows what is actually happening, not what it wants to believe is happening.
Talking with the right people gives us a real-world, real-time assessment of a given problem or situation.
While the signposts to the solution will exist in the data, externalising the needs and experiences of the individuals involved will reveal what actually happens. And accessing these experiences is only possible by identifying and bringing together relevant people from across a business.
Once these valuable experiences have been brought to light, they need to be examined in a non-judgmental manner. This is where perpetual thinking groups can help, as they remove politics and ego to create a constructive, trusting environment in which experiences can be analysed. By encouraging participants to share and reflect on their personal experiences, perpetual thinking groups enable businesses to get to the root cause of a given problem.
Digital tools can trick us into thinking that we’re communicating effectively and efficiently. But in an increasingly digital environment, spending time talking with the people involved in the delivery of a product or process to understand their needs and experiences is more important than ever.
Although Cliff’s ‘We don’t talk anymore’ may have been written about a disintegrating relationship, it’s a problem that is just as applicable to the modern business environment. But if we bring the right people together in the right environment, we can obtain an informed understanding of the real-world issues that are affecting experiences across a business, its customers and its partners.
Improving customer experience requires a focus on more than just customer needs. If we put the needs of customers before everything else, we ignore the needs of all the other people involved in the delivery of customer experience.
The aim of ‘putting the customer first’ can be misleading as it often prevents a business from focusing on the poor experiences of employees and partners. And without addressing these issues, putting the customer first is unlikely to deliver a sustainable improvement in customer experience.
It’s good to finally see some high-level acknowledgement that improving customer experience involves moving beyond touchpoints and focusing on journeys. But my question is this: why stop at customer journeys? If customer experience represents the entirety of a customer’s interactions with a business, then there is a clear need to realign every business function in support of customer experience.
Using customer journeys to redesign organisations will only ever provide us with a limited understanding of the complex cross-functional problems that impact on customer experience. This is why we need to extend the journey further into the organisation to not only reveal the root causes of these problems but also engage with those responsible for delivery.
People Experience Journeys extend the customer journey into a business
By analysing the needs and experiences of customers, employees and partners, people experience journeys bring to light all the tensions and weak links that create obstacles to seamless customer experience. In doing so, they also reveal invaluable local knowledge and work-arounds that employees have developed to get around legacy structures and systems. Take this example:
Delivering a sustainable improvement in customer experience requires an understanding of the needs and experiences of everyone involved in a product or process. Viewing customer experience through the customer’s eyes isn’t enough, we need a real-world, real-time assessment of experiences across the business. Only then can we isolate and systematically address each need and experience to improve the resulting outcome for the customer.
Achieving exceptional customer experience won’t come from simply putting the customer first. It will come from an authentic evaluation of the needs of everyone who’s work has an impact on the customer.